"The building in which we are assembled this evening is only one of four in which the operations of the committee are carried on. It may, however, be interesting to the friends present this evening to know the origin of the operations that now occupy the attention of the committee, and in tracing this origin they cannot but express their devout thanksgiving to Almighty God for having so abundantly blessed the prayerful labours of those who laid the foundation of this great work.
"In the early part of the year 1843 a few pious working men, devoted to the service of God and anxious for the welfare of others, resolved to form an association for aiding the funds of the London City Mission. The association was formed, and the members were allowed to select the field where the missionaries, whom they proposed wholly or in part to maintain, should labour. The sphere chosen was the locality then known as the St. Giles's Rookery. Here the missionary commenced his work. Immediately he did so he soon found vice, ignorance, immorality, and wretchedness reigning in their worst forms.
"For the children and young people the missionary thought there was hope that they might be rescued from a downward path, if they could be brought under Christian instruction and made to feel the blessed influences of the Gospel of Christ. With a view of drawing those children away from their haunts of sin for a little time, a loft over a cow-shed was taken in Streatham-street, Bloomsbury, and fitted up as a school-room. The school was no sooner opened than it was filled with children anxious to obtain instruction. For want of funds to engage a paid teacher the room was only opened two nights a week and on the Sabbath afternoon.
"In due time, however, a paid teacher was engaged four evenings a week, and religious instruction was gien twice on the Lord's Day by voluntary teachers. Hundreds of children were benefited by the labours of the teachers in this room; and from this one school, in the years 1848 and 1849, no less than twenty boys and two girls were sent out to Australia under the auspices of the Ragged School Union and the efforts of the noble Lord who was to have occupied the chair on the present occasion.
"These young people all did well in the colony, and most of the lads have remitted money to their parents or friends; and within the last few weeks one of those boys, who was fifteen years old when he was sent out in 1848, has just returned to England for the purpose of taking back to the land of his adoption his father, mother, sister, and brother, having, by hard work and honest industry, saved no less a sum than £300.
"Another scholar of the school was sent out in the early part of 1852 to Australia, and, after remaining in her service two or three years, married, and the result is that her husband, in September last, remitted to the secretary the sum of £35 to pay for the passage-money and outfits for the sister and brother of the wife (the one seventeen and the other eleven) that they might join their sister in Australia; and in addition to this a further sum of £10 was remitted for the use of the father and mother of the wife.
"Many other interesting facts might be given to show the good resulting from this one small school; but the committee pass on to trace the operations to the present time. In 1850 the building in which the school was carried on in Streatham-street was purchased by the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Labouring Classes, and pulled down. The school was then temporarily removed to George-street, and afterwards to Neal's-yard and Great St. Andrew-street.
"In 1852 the committee succeeded in purchasing of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests a freehold carcase, No. 19, Broad-street, Bloomsbury, which had been intended for a gin palace. This carcase was completed and fitted up as schools for boys, girls, and infants; and in June, 1853, the temporary schools in George-street, Neal's-yard, and Great St. Andrews-street were removed here. Besides affording accommodation for these three day-schools, the building contained room enough to give shelter and training to a few of the children who were homeless or destitute. The committee had long felt the needs of such a home, but had never had the opportunity of establishing one, owing to the want of room.
"This difficulty being now met, provision was made in July, 1852, for taking in six boys and six girls, who were to be wholly maintained. This was the beginning of what is now called the refuge operations. At that time the committee only intended the Refuge for the homeless and destitute scholars of the schools under their care; but admitted homeless and destitute children, from whatever quarter they have come, so that among those who have been received some were born in Scotland, some in Ireland, some in Wales, two in Italy, and others in various parts of London and the English counties.
"From 1852 to 1855 the Refuge operations were wholly carried on in the building in Broad-street; but the number of children having increased from twelve to sixty, and it being necessary tht the boys should be removed to other premises, a house and workshop were accordingly taken at 17, Arthur-street, for three years, and the boys were removed there. Owing to the number of applicants for admission, it was soon found that these premises were too small. Nothing, however, could be done but patiently wait till the period for which they were taken had expired. All the inconveniences were patiently endured by the master and his wife.
"The time having arrived for seeking other premises, the committee applied themselves to the task. After inspecting many localities and buildings which were pointed out to them, they found none so well adapted as those in which we are in to-night. They were in a dilapidated condition, the rent high, and the landlord unwilling to expend much money in repairs. But it was absolutely necessary that something should be done at once; so, after much deliberation and negotiation with the landlord, the committee agreed to take a lease for seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years, at a rental of £300 a year, the landlord allowing £150 towards the substantial repairs required to be done. The alterations and repairs amount to £714, and the gasfittings, stoves, warming-apparatus, &c., amount to £126 - making together about £840. Towards this sum the landlord pays £150; donations received, £270; leaving £420 to be realised.
"Since the establishment of the Refuge operations to the close of last year 289 boys and 202 girls have been admitted to the benefits of the institution. The children are provided with food, clothing, lodging, and education; they are trained to habits of cleanliness, order, industry, and honesty; they are present at family prayer night and morning, and they attend public worshop on the Sabbath. The boys are instructed in the trades of shoe-making, tailoring, carpentering, and wood-chopping, with a view of fitting them for service at home or in the colonies; and the girls are taught cooking, washing, ironing, needlework, and other household duties, so as to train them for domestic service.
"The total number of children who left the Refuge for service, &c., from its opening till December 31, 1857, is 301: 164 boys and 137 girls.
"At the close of last year there were fifty boys in the Refuge; and during the present year fifty-four additional inmates have been received, making one hundred and four. Of this number eighteen have been sent out as emigrants to Canada; thirteen placed in situations in London or transferred to another institution; one restored to his mother; and twelve have left of their own accord: leaving fifty-nine now in the Refuge.
"On the 1st of January in the present year there were forty-three inmates in the Girls' Refuge, at 19, Broad-street, and thirty-six have since been received.
"It will be remembered that there are only fifty-nine boys in the Refuge to-night. At least forty more can with ease and comfort be received; and this number might in one night be found, brought in, and rescued from a life of want, wretchedness, vice, and crime; but, until the whole of the expenses of the alterations, repairs, and fittings are discharged, the committee will not feel justified in increasing the number of inmates, however pressing their cases may be, and at this season of the year the applications for admission are most urgent.
"The amount required for discharging these expenses is £420. Towards this sum the committee of the Ragged School Union have kindly promised the handsome sum of £100, as soon as the remainder is raised. The committee, therefore, earnestly appeal for aid towards raising this deficiency, and they trust that, when it is known that this small sum only is required to discharge this noble building from debt, the subscribers and friends will come forward and at once help the committee, so that they may not have to shut the door of the Refuge against any poor child who may apply for admission.
"Subscriptions and donations will be thankfully received by the secretary, Mr. William Williams, at the Boys' Refuge, No. 8, Great Queen-street, Holborn, or at the Girls' Refuge, No. 19, Broad-street, Bloomsbury.
"The institution is under the Presidency of the Hon. and Rev. the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, and the Lord Bishop of Ripon is also a Vice-President."
The Refuge for Destitute and Homeless Boys became the National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children, and then Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa, which still exists today.